BURTON ALBION 0-0 WALSALLHonours even at the Pirelli Stadium in the Staffordshire derby as both the Brewers and Walsall slugged it out in a goalless draw to keep both sides in the hunt for automatic promotion from League One. Quality chances in the game were few and far between with Stuart Beavon finding the side netting and Lucas Akins heading a free kick straight at Neil Etheridge in the Walsall goal while Cypriot international Jason Demetriou failed to beat Jon McLaughlin from a narrowing angle with the best opportunity for the Saddlers.
In fairness it was probably a must not lose game for both sides and both will probably feel comfortable with taking a point with so much at stake and at a time of the season when results are far more important than performances. Albion can feel happy with another clean sheet but it was the first time in twelve games since the return of Nigel Clough that the Brewers had failed to find the back of the net.
A training ground injury ruled winger Mark Duffy out of the crunch clash with fellow promotion contenders Walsall. The Birmingham loanee's absence opened the door for Lucas Akins to return to the starting line-up. Loan signing Hamza Choudhury, from Leicester City came straight into the squad on the bench.
A tense and nervy opening saw Walsall with the bulk of the early possession but it was Albion who fashioned the first real chance on nine minutes. Persistence by Calum Butcher down the right resulted in a deep cross towards Tom Naylor at the back post. His downward header was inviting for Akins whose shot rebounded out to Damien McCrory whose volley went wide.
Tom Bradshaw, leading marksman for the Saddlers this term hooked a shot from the edge of the area comfortably into the arms of McLaughlin as Walsall made their early possession finally count for something with an effort on goal.
Both sides were looking to play with high intensity and Burton almost found a way through on 20 minutes. Good link up from Akins and Beavon found the Brewers top scorer with his back to goal inside the penalty area but able to turn he whipped a left foot shot towards goal with a vital deflection taking it wide of Neil Etheridge in the Walsall goal but also wide of the post. Albion were unable to capitalise from the corners that followed and it was soon the turn of the visitors to put pressure on from a series of corners. Milan Lalkovic almost crept in around the back to latch onto a neat flick from Romaine Sawyers only for Shane Cansdell-Sherriff to slam the door shut as a sight of goal opened up.
Albion should have been ahead just ahead of the half hour mark. A superb ball through the Walsall defence by Butcher cut open the Saddlers back line and Bennett was in. He took just a little too long to pick his spot allowing Jason Demetriou the chance to slide in and poke the ball against the legs of his own keeper and away from danger.
Moments later it was end to end and McLaughlin was making a sprawling save to deny Sawyers. A long ball forward was headed into his path by Bradshaw but the Burton keeper did enough to deny the Walsall front man.
Sawyers had another on 37 minutes as the Saddlers broke quickly onto a loose pass from Naylor in the midfield. Bradshaw, Lalkovic and Anthony Forde were all involved in getting the ball to Sawyers on the edge of the box but Albion's defence were out quickly to make sure his effort was deflected wide.
It was Walsall in the ascendency now and Bradshaw was only denied a clean shot on goal by an excellent intervention by Mousinho after silky skills from Lalkovic exposed Albion's right flank and Paul Downing, up from the back for a corner connected with a shot that was helped over the bar by the fingertips of McLaughlin.
Neither side threatened in what remained of the first half meaning it was all to play for in the second period.
Half time: Burton Albion 0-0 Walsall
Lalkovic again showed early signs of promise for the visitors with a jinking run inside the box four minutes after the break but McLaughlin ensured there was no route through to goal for the Slovakian.
Mason Bennett was perhaps fortunate to escape without a yellow card when his clumsy challenge sent Forde tumbling. A long lecture from referee James Adcock was the order of the day and Walsall were unable to make anything from the free kick either letting Albion off.
Stuart Beavon was inches away from breaking the deadlock on 57 minutes with a superb run and a flashing shot from the edge of the box that rippled the side netting many of the supporters on the opposite side thinking the ball had nestled in the back of the net.
A raking drive from Mantom was the best that Walsall could muster up to the midpoint of the second half but his effort was never troubling McLauighlin. The Albion stopper had to use his frame to save well though on 70 minutes as Jason Demetriou was able to advance forward from the back and get deep into the Burton penalty area before firing a low effort straight at the Burton keeper.
Both sides left it until minute 78 to make their first changes. Walsall replaced Forde with Kieron Morris in their midfield and Albion opted to introduce their new man Choudhury in place of Naylor.
Referee Adcock was finally forced to produce a yellow card on 80 minutes for Saddlers centre back Downing who was lured into a rash challenge on Beavon by the touch line. The free kick that resulted allowed McCrory to swing in a curling cross that Akins headed down well but straight at Etheridge.
Beavon had shouts for a penalty emphatically waved away by the Nottinghamshire match official. Capitalising on a slip by James O'Connor he skipped into the box and trying to turn ran into the back of another Walsall defender but referee Adcock was well placed to wave play on.
Callum Reilly and Marcus Harness were thrown on for stoppage time as Bennett and Beavon took their leave after another industrious shift but in the end neither had time to make a game changing impact and both sides had to settle for a hard earned point.